Belfast Telegraph

Kingspan win key for Munster's confidence

By Tony Ward

It was a case of tries that were but weren't as one sealed the deal for Leinster against Connacht while the other at the Kingspan didn't have the influence on the result it might have had given the circumstances and conditions.

Local derbies tend to be tight, particularly around Christmas when the weather closes in. They may not be the most riveting in terms of flowing rugby but for me and I guess for Joe Schmidt too, they are as close as it gets to Final Trials in the build-up to the Six Nations.

At the RDS I think it's important to emphasise the elements. It wasn't cold, quite the opposite in fact, but in terms of constructive running rugby the incessant rain made accuracy and precision nigh-on impossible.

Credit Pat Lam and Connacht then for still giving it a go. The plan was a repeat of the quick passing, off-loading, one-out strategy so successful against Munster.

They gave it their best shot but inevitably the conditions won out. It was a bold attempt but Leinster, in keeping it much more simple but also in applying the type of defensive pressure Munster did not, got the result they deserved.

The 13-0 loss was the third league defeat on the bounce, making a win of any hue essential next up. I'm not too sure the Scarlets in Wales is the best place for that.

Lam was incensed with the match officials in the aftermath, given the call in relation to the Josh van der Flier try.

He had more than a point, not so much with the TMO (Marshall Kilgore) but more with the referee (George Clancy). The problem is in the wording between referee and TMO. Given that he slipped, I think it highly unlikely the referee got an accurate view of the supposed grounding.

The question he then asked Kilgore was "is there any reason I cannot award the try?" As I understand it, that intimates the referee is happy with the legitimacy of the touchdown but wants to check if there is anything untoward in the build-up.

In a sense that question ties the TMO's hands. Had Clancy asked Kilgore the more open "try or no try"? then there is room for manoeuvre. Logically, the same answer should apply as in "no try, for the simple reason there is no evidence of the ball being touched down". How can you confirm something you can't see?

All of which assumes that despite slipping at the critical moment, the referee still saw the grounding and that may well be the case. Only he knows. But it left an unsure feeling for everybody else and a bitter pill for Connacht to swallow.

That Leinster deserved to win is beyond dispute. They handled the conditions more pragmatically and exerted pressure in all the right areas. They had too big performers in key positions, not least Eoin Reddan at scrum-half.

Sean O'Brien was again immense upon his arrival and is indeed a candidate for Ireland captain in succession to Paul O'Connell. Take your pick from Rory Best, O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip, Murray, Jonathan Sexton, possibly Rob Kearney -the experienced options are certainly there.

At the Kingspan, and despite an even more controversial try embracing both a knock-on and offside in the build-up, Munster were fully deserving of their win. It wasn't pretty and they still look bereft of attacking guile but this was more like the siege mentality and resilience of old.

I was delighted for Ian Keatley, taking a deserved man of the match award. I repeat that until they unveil a marquee signing in the position (and I still wish Ian Madigan had made that move) Keatley is by a distance the best option of the three available, but with Rory Scannell showing very real potential in the centre.

For Anthony Foley the return of Tommy O'Donnell is critical and with Peter O'Mahony still to come back alongside Jack O'Donoghue, CJ Stander and Robin Copeland (a player I still believe to be hugely under-rated) the omens are good.

I'm not too sure they have turned any corner just yet but in terms of confidence for what lies ahead, that win in Belfast was massive.

What they must have from here is a settled combination at 9, 10, 12 and 13 going forward and for this observer Conor Murray, Keatley, Scannell and Francis Saili represents just that.

Belfast Telegraph

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